Court finds management problems prevent HSD from fixing food and medical benefits applications

ALBUQUERQUE—A federal court found that lack of leadership and accountability in the New Mexico Human Services Department prevents it from fixing entrenched problems in food and medical benefit administration.

In a ruling issued late yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales set a series of deadlines for HSD compliance with court ordered reforms and required the appointment of knowledgeable subject matter experts in supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), Medicaid, and eligibility for families that include immigrants in the department’s Income Support Division.

“We’re very hopeful that this ruling will lead to much needed changes in the department’s leadership,” said Sovereign Hager, managing attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “For there to be permanent improvement in administration, the Human Services Department leadership must have expertise and management abilities that give front line workers the tools they need to ensure New Mexicans can get food and medical assistance. HSD is still not processing applications in time, leaving too many children and families unable to access basic necessities.”

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held the HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families. The court appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department.

Despite court orders and the expertise provided by the Special Master, HSD continues to improperly deny eligible New Mexicans food and medical assistance and does not provide timely information about case decisions. Each month the department develops a backlog of unprocessed cases, a large share of phone calls go unanswered, and workers are not accurately trained on the requirements for processing food and medical assistance applications.

In his ruling yesterday, the judge agreed with the Special Master’s January 2018 report finding that the current HSD management team lacks the sufficient “knowledge, skills, and abilities” necessary to ensure families receive information about their cases and get the assistance they need to eat and see the doctor.

The judge also found that the Income Support Division Director demonstrated “woefully” little knowledge of the court ordered changes to improve processing food and Medicaid applications despite the significant impact they had on the division’s mission and work.

The judge was also troubled by the ISD Director’s lack of knowledge of standard memoranda issued by her division, training procedures, and her admitted failure to speak with the Regional Operations Managers on how to address improving timeliness and efficiency.

“We hope the state will make the management changes that will end the need for such extensive oversight through the courts,” said Hager. “New Mexicans who are going through significant hardships shouldn’t have to fight with the state to get the food and medical care they need.”

Center attorneys working on the Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest lawsuit include Sovereign Hager, Gail Evans, and Maria Griego. Civil rights attorney, Daniel Yohalem is lead counsel on the case.

The court’s ruling can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Doc.-836-Memorandum-Opinion-and-Order-2018-04-05-00000003.pdf

Federal Court to hear Special Master’s findings on illegal barriers to food and medical assistance on Thursday

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — On Thursday, in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, Judge Kenneth Gonzales will hold a hearing on the court-appointed Special Master’s report regarding the New Mexico Human Services Department’s failure to comply with multiple court orders to timely and accurately provide food and medical assistance to eligible families. The court ordered 20 high-level employees to be present at the hearing.

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held the HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. The Special Master issued a report in January 2018 finding that “the current HSD/ISD management team lacks sufficient knowledge, skills, and abilities to appropriately manage the program or bring it into full compliance with the Consent Decree.” The Special Master recommended that HSD take immediate action, including removing five high-level employees from the division that administers food and medical assistance, appoint qualified experts, and improve worker training.

Despite court orders and the expertise provided by the Special Master, HSD continues to improperly deny eligible New Mexicans food and medical assistance. Each month the department develops a backlog of unprocessed cases, a large share of phone calls are not answered, and workers are not accurately trained on the requirements for processing food and medical assistance applications.

WHAT:  
Court hearing on the Special Master’s Report (Doc. 810) on HSD compliance with court orders in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest (No. 88-385 KG/CG) and the objections to the Special Master’s Report (Docs. 812 & 813)

WHEN:
Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 9:00 a.m.

WHERE:
Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse
440 Hondo Courtroom
333 Lomas Boulevard, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM 87102

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys
Special Master Lawrence M. Parker and Compliance Specialist Ramona McKissic
HSD Secretary Brent Earnest
HSD Deputy Secretary and General Counsel Christopher Collins
Income Support Division Director Mary Brogdon
19 other HSD staff members were also ordered to attend, including county directors, regional operations managers, a former deputy secretary, and assistant general counsel

Federal Court Hearing on HSD Compliance with Orders to Remove Barriers to Food and Medical Assistance on Wednesday, November 29

LAS CRUCES, NM— On Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces, Judge Kenneth Gonzales will hear an update on the New Mexico Human Services Department’s compliance with multiple court orders to timely and accurately provide food and medical assistance to eligible families.

Last year, Judge Gonzales held the HSD secretary in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. The Special Master recommended that HSD cease any program changes not required by federal law and that the department make changes in its management.

Despite the court orders and Special Master’s recommendations, HSD continues to improperly deny eligible New Mexicans food and medical assistance–in November of 2017, HSD had a backlog of over 17,000 unprocessed SNAP and Medicaid cases. The department has also failed to make any management changes and is proposing large-scale changes to the Medicaid program, including charging premiums and Medicaid co-pays, that are not required by federal law.

WHAT:
U.S District Court status conference on HSD compliance with court orders in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest, No. 88-385 KG/CG

WHEN:
Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE:
United States Courthouse
4th Floor, North Tower, Mimbres Courtroom
100 N. Church Street
Las Cruces, New Mexico 88001

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys
HSD Secretary and Attorneys

Human Services Department to Hold Hearing on Medicaid Cuts on Monday, October 30

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—New Mexico’s Human Services Department (HSD) will hold a hearing on the serious cuts the Medicaid program faces in the Centennial Care 2.0 waiver proposal on Monday, October 30 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. This will be the final public hearing on the issue.

The waiver proposal eliminates important coverage and health benefits and imposes new excessive patient fees in the form of co-pays and premiums on the working disabled, low-income adults living just above the poverty line, and children enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These fees will prevent people from seeking necessary healthcare and cause thousands of others to lose coverage.

WHAT:
HSD Hearing on the Centennial Care 2.0 Waiver Proposal

WHEN:
5:30-7:30 p.m., October 30, 2017

WHERE:          
National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Bank of America Theatre
1701 4th Street SW
Albuquerque, NM, 87102

Call in Number: 1-888-757-2790
Participant code: 991379#

WHO:

  • HSD staff
  • Abuko Estrada, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and other groups against the waiver
  • Public Comment

Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to Hold Hearing on Medicaid Cuts Today

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—The New Mexico Legislative Health and Human Services (LHHS) Committee will hold a hearing today, starting at 12:30 p.m., on the serious cuts the Medicaid program faces in the Human Services Department’s (HSD) Centennial Care 2.0 waiver proposal. The hearing will take place at the Science and Technology Center Rotunda at UNM, 801 University Blvd. SE in Albuquerque, NM.

The proposal eliminates certain coverage and health benefits for low-income patients and imposes new patient fees in the form of co-pays and premiums to children enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the working disabled, and low-income adults living just above the poverty line.

“Medicaid has worked well for New Mexico. The state should focus on ensuring our families can get the care they need to stay healthy, not cut coverage for the people who can least afford it,” said Abuko D. Estrada, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “At a time when our economy is struggling, these cuts will drive families into further financial hardships and throw away federal funding that helps sustain thousands of jobs.”

Currently for every state dollar New Mexico invests in Medicaid, the state receives four dollars back from the federal government. The Centennial Care 2.0 waiver proposal cuts will result in the loss of federal money for Medicaid that supports over 50,000 jobs and helps drive the New Mexico economy.

Centennial Care 2.0’s most harmful cuts to Medicaid include:

  • Charging low-income patients with new fees in the form of co-pays and premiums for children in CHIP, the working disabled, and low-income adults living just above the poverty line, which could result in thousands of people losing coverage altogether (as studies have shown);
  • Eliminating retroactive coverage protection that pays for Medicaid applicants’ past medical bills, from three months prior to applying for Medicaid, putting New Mexico’s families in severe medical debt and leaving healthcare providers with uncompensated care costs;
  • Ending a transitional Medicaid program that will result in coverage loss for families that have been living in deep poverty, creating financial hardships and interrupting health coverage when they enter new jobs or accept raises that place them just above the eligibility threshold for Medicaid; and
  • Reducing important health benefits for very low-income adults with dependent children, eliminating Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) protections for children who are 19 and 20 year olds, and opening the door for the HSD secretary to make drastic cuts to more benefits in the future.

WHAT:
LHHS Committee Hearing on the Centennial Care 2.0 Waiver Proposal

WHO/WHEN:       
12:30 p.m.
Presentations about Concerns about Medicaid Cuts
Abuko D. Estrada, Attorney, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
David Machledt, Ph.D., Senior Policy Analyst, National Health Law Program

2:30 p.m.
Presentation on Medicaid Waiver
HSD Secretary Brent Earnest

4:30 p.m.
Public Comment

WHERE:   
Science and Technology Center Rotunda at UNM
801 University Blvd SE
Albuquerque, NM

Today’s hearing will be the only opportunity for providing comments in Albuquerque. Other public meetings will take place in Santa Fe, Las Cruces, and Las Vegas.

 

Urgent Action Alert: Stop Damaging Fees for Our Families!

Governor Martinez and the Human Services Department (HSD) are moving forward on a proposal that would create unnecessary obstacles to healthcare by charging higher fees to patients that get Medicaid.

HSD’s proposal requires low-income patients be charged co-pays each time they receive medical care – including for prescriptions, surgeries and other doctor visits. The proposal specifically targets children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), working disabled individuals, and adults living near poverty, with co-pays that range anywhere from $2 to $8 for each prescription drug to $50 for hospital care. Co-pays for “non-preferred” prescriptions and “non-emergency” use of the emergency room are also proposed for all Medicaid patients regardless of income.

This idea was rejected by HSD’s own panel of stakeholders and experts last summer. It has also received strong criticism from various community organizations, healthcare provider associations, and patients through both written and public comment.

The proposal should be withdrawn because:

  • A wide body of research shows that co-pays, even in “nominal” amounts, prevent people from getting needed medical care.
  • Costs add up quickly for families and children with multiple health needs – especially for people with disabilities or chronic health conditions.
  • The costs often shift to healthcare providers that choose to treat patients when they cannot afford the co-pay.
  • Our healthcare system and state budget will see long-term negative effects due to increased administrative costs and increased use of more expensive healthcare services.

Please call and urge your networks to contact Governor Martinez – (505) 476-2200 – and tell her to stop the Medicaid co-pay proposal. We should be making Medicaid better, not creating barriers for our families to get the healthcare they need!

 

HSD to Hold Public Hearing Tomorrow on Proposal to Increase Medicaid Co-Pays

Tomorrow at 9 a.m., New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) will hold a public hearing to gather comment on its proposal to increase co-pays for Medicaid patients. This proposal faced opposition from HSD’s own stakeholder group when proposed last year and still faces widespread opposition.

Over 20 groups and individuals have signed on with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty in comments submitted to HSD opposing the proposal, including the New Mexico Medical Society, New Mexico Academy of Family Physicians, New Mexico Pediatric Society, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, and Parents Reaching Out among others. These groups assert that a wide body of research has shown that such fees decrease access to necessary medical care, shift costs to providers, and will have negative consequences for our healthcare system and state economy.

The aforementioned comments on the proposal can be found here.

What:   Public Comment Hearing

Who:     HSD

When:  Friday, July 14, 2017 at 9 a.m. MST

Where: Rio Grande Conference Room, Toney Anaya Building, 2550 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505

Public Hearings on Human Services Department’s Medicaid Plan Ongoing  

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Public hearings start this week on the Human Services Department’s (HSD) recently released plan for the future of Medicaid in New Mexico – Centennial Care 2.0.

More information about Centennial Care 2.0 can be found on the HSD website here.

The Center on Law and Poverty has released a packet of information detailing alarming changes from the plan that will be harmful and costly to our families and the State that can be found here. Stakeholders are expected to be present to provide public comment at the hearings.

HSD Public Hearings

  • June 14th – Albuquerque – 3:30-5pm – CNM Workforce Training Center (5600 Eagle Rock Ave. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113)
  • June 19th – Silver City – 4:00 – 6:00 pm – WNMU – GRC Auditorium (1000 W. College Ave., Silver City, NM 88061)
  • June 21st – Farmington – 4:30 – 6:30 pm – Bonnie Dallas Senior Center (109 E. La Plata St., Farmington, NM 87401)
  • June 26th – Roswell – 4:30 – 6:30 pm – Roswell Public Library (301 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Roswell, NM 88201)

Tribal Consultation Hearing

  • June 23rd – Albuquerque – 9:00am – noon – Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (2401 12th Street NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104)

Judge Holds NM Human Services Chief in Contempt

human-services-departmentOriginally published in the Albuquerque Journal September 28, 2016
https://www.abqjournal.com/854783/judge-finds-contempt-in-hsd-legal-case.html

SANTA FE – A federal judge held New Mexico’s top human services official in contempt Tuesday for failing to comply with court orders aimed at improving the administration of food aid and Medicaid health care benefits.

The contempt order against Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest by U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales upheld findings that the cabinet secretary did not diligently attempt to comply with court orders concerning the handling of Medicaid benefit renewals, eligibility for immigrants, training for agency employees and other administrative requirements.

The judge, in his Tuesday order, also said objections filed by the agency were without merit and that the overall direction of the case was troubling.

“It remains clear that HSD and its officials have failed to exercise the leadership, control and managerial oversight to effectively come into compliance with the court orders,” Gonzales wrote.

However, a spokesman for the Human Services Department, which runs the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, took issue with at least part of the judge’s order.

“We strongly disagree with the judge’s characterization of the department, which doesn’t take into account all of our efforts to resolve long-standing issues – some of which are three decades old and occurred under several administrations,” HSD spokesman Kyler Nerison said. “However, we are pleased that the court has agreed with us to bring in an outside monitor to help resolve those issues.”

“Regardless, we are going to continue providing services to New Mexicans who need it the most,” he added.

The contempt finding accompanies the judge’s earlier approval of plans for a court-appointed special master to help ensure federally funded benefits are administered properly amid internal investigations by state and federal agencies into allegations that food aid applications were falsified.

The civil contempt order carries no additional sanctions or penalties.

Sovereign Hager, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and advocate for aid beneficiaries in the litigation, said the order sends a strong message nonetheless.

“I think this is a message that if things don’t work out with a special master and the state doesn’t come into compliance, the court will look to harsher remedies,” she said.

New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, and there were more than 536,000 New Mexicans receiving food assistance benefits under SNAP, which was formerly known as food stamps, as of July, according to HSD. That figure was up by more than 7 percent – or nearly 36,000 people – from a year earlier.

The judge’s contempt order is the latest twist in a 1988 lawsuit. Earlier this year, a series of hearings were conducted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen Garza, who had been tasked with monitoring compliance with a consent decree in the lawsuit and previous court orders.

Those hearings showed potential problems with the SNAP program, including testimony that state intake workers had been ordered to falsify income for some applicants, effectively denying them emergency benefits.

The testimony prompted criticism of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration by top legislative Democrats and party officials, including a call from Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the chairman of the interim Health and Human Services Committee, for Earnest to resign.

Earnest took over as HSD secretary – after Martinez picked him for the job – in December 2014 after the agency’s former secretary stepped down.

Read the Order from Judge Gonzales here.